Hundreds of thousands of people gathered Tuesday on the National Mall for a star-studded Veterans Day concert honoring current and former members of the U.S. military.
Some spectators waited overnight for a chance to grab choice seats when security gates opened at 10 a.m. for the Concert for Valor event. Others streamed in over the course of the afternoon, basking in the warm fall day ahead of the 7 p.m. concert.
Metro originally projected that up to 800,000 people might attend the free concert, which was scheduled to feature performances by musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Metallica and Rihanna.
But by mid-afternoon, heavy crowds were filing through security checkpoints, slowed by a lengthy list of prohibited items that included everything from coolers, glass containers and folding chairs to alcohol, fireworks and drones.
By early evening, officials reported a handful of scattered cases of people stopped for attempting to jump the fences that established the security perimeter, and by the time the concert began at 7 p.m. the crowd filled the Mall.
Singer Jennifer Hudson opened the concert with a rendition of “Star Spangled Banner,” which was followed by a recorded message from President Obama, encouraging viewers and concertgoers to find a way to give back to the veteran community.
PHOTOS: Concert for Valor
“Lets all find ways to serve these heroes as they have served us,” Mr. Obama said.
Following Mr. Obama’s speech, musicians proceeded to take the stage for short two to three song sets, interspersed with celebrity speeches and real stories of veterans.
In one of the first acts, Dave Grohl, of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame, sang a moving rendition of the Foo Fighters‘“My Hero,” encouraging the audience of thousands, stretching across the National Mall, to sing along. “We’ve got a lot of heroes here tonight and we’re going to sing for them tonight,” he said, as thousands of voices joined him in the song’s famous chorus, “There goes my hero/watch him as he goes.”
Later in the show, the crowd delighted when at the end of the Zac Brown Band’s set, Mr. Grohl and Bruce Springsteen took the stage and joined the band in a rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”
Between two of the acts, Steven Spielberg shared the story of Navy Medical Corps veteran Lt. Cmdr. Bill Krissoff. Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff, an orthopedic surgeon, was inspired to join the medical corps after one of his sons, Nate, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan.
Recruiters told Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff, who was 60 at the time, that he was too old to serve and would need a waiver to enlist. His waiver was denied, but Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff’s determination was not hampered.
Then-President George W. Bush had a tradition of meeting with the families of fallen soldiers and when he met with Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff’s family, he asked if there was anything he could do. Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff told Mr. Bush of his desire to serve, and how he was rejected because of his age. “No offense, but I’m younger than you,” Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff said he told Mr. Bush.
A few days later, Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff got the call that his waiver had been approved. He went on to serve as a surgeon in Afghanistan, operating on soldiers and amputating limbs of those who, like his son, were stuck by IEDs.
In between acts like the Black Keys and Metallica, celebrities took the stage encouraging people to financially support programs for veterans, as well as sharing their own stories about veterans in their families.
The show closed with the headlining acts beginning to take the stage just after 9 p.m. Mr. Springsteen, well known for his support of veterans, sang several favorites, closing his longer set with a slowed down version of “Dancing in the Dark.” Mr. Springsteen’s performance was followed by a set by Rihanna, who shared the stage with Eminem in her final number. The rapper closed the show, which ended just before 10 p.m.
Meryl Streep’s nephews, brothers-in-law and father are all veterans or active service members, and comedian John Oliver shared that his wife served as a U.S. combat medic in Iraq.
HBO sponsored the three-hour concert as a way to honor veterans and active-duty servicemen and women. HBO’s Web page for the event directs visitors to organizations accepting donations to provide aid for veterans and promises that 100 percent of money raised through the concert will be donated to organizations that benefit veterans.